Not sure if it’s going to add anything to this blog but it could be fun…
Not sure if it’s going to add anything to this blog but it could be fun…
>I just spent that last 24 hours with my wife at Credit Valley Hospital in our home town of Mississauga Ontario. For those of you unfamiliar with the geography, we are a city of just under 1 million on the western edge of Toronto. You might say that we are to Toronto what Burbank is to Los Angeles.
There has been much talk in the media lately about universal healthcare. Republicans in the US have used the Canadian system is a kind of boogie man in there debate with President Obama’s plan to over hall the system there. Our system is far from perfect, believe me. However; when you are in pain and need help the last thing you should be thinking about is how much this is going to cost.
As a resident (you don’t even have to be a citizen) of the province of Ontario I receive access to one of the best run emergency health care systems in the world. We do pay for it but the premiums deducted from our pay cheques through income assessments are based on our ability to pay, not our need or how much we use it. A healthy person who is rich pays more than a sick person who is poor on the assumption that the system is there for everyone when they need it. I pay roughly $100 per month for this access, others pay less and use it more but that’s okay.
In the last 24 hours my wife has undergone an x-ray, ultrasound and eventually had to have her gallbladder removed. She stayed overnight in a private room, had access to a private telephone line, received a meal and was given a prescription for pain medication. My total bill at the end of the day was $57.77. Half of that was for parking the other half for the prescribed drugs not covered by the government insurance plan. In two weeks she will return to the hospital for a follow up assessment by the surgeon, FREE. We visit our family doctor for routine ailments and check-ups on average 3-4 times per year, also FREE.
I don`t pretend to understand all the complexities of a government verses private health care system but when you need surgery to continue to live nothing else matters. Worrying about how you`re going to pay for it, whether or not your insurance company will cover it or if you will one day lose your coverage should never enter the debate. I know that if I lose my job tomorrow the Ontario government will no longer be getting their $100 per month from me but I will still have access to the same health care my wife needed today and that`s all the matters in the end.
>Okay, so I had this idea…
Micro-Finance organizations all over the world are dominated by non-profit, religious based NGOs. They are there to help people by giving them a low interest, sometimes even zero interest loans to start a business and feed their families. In theory the recipients pay back the loans into the pool and the money is then re-loaned to others or they take out new loans to expand their businesses take on new employees etc and thereby benefit the whole community.
But there are some who say that Micro-Finance doesn’t work. My guess is that the religious connections of the organizations alienate some ethnic communities, the loan amounts are too small to really make a difference, the communities are too focused on subsistence to truly run effective businesses or that it creates a culture of dependence on easy credit (sound familiar?). There is also some merit to the argument that the recipients have almost no concept of how a free market economy actually works.
The fact that the seed capital came as a donation from an individual that does not expect a return on investment also creates a culture whereby the parent organization does not have a long term investment in the recipient, without an expectation of a return there is no mechanism that allows the Micro Loan to grow beyond a very small amount, enough to effectively support a growing economy.
What if Micro-Finance were managed like a bank or bond market, complete with shareholders who expected a return on their investment?
Simply put – a Bond is a created when a debt is portioned out to a number of different individuals. If I buy $1000 bond in a mortgage company that doles out mortgages to individuals in the amount of $100.000, I in essence own 1% of someone’s house. As the mortgage is repaid I receive a dividend equal to value of my ownership plus interest and I can sell my entire bond at market value at any time. So if the house increases in value, so does the value of my bond.
As always these brain storms bring up more questions than they answer.
Questions – What are the reasons most often cited that Micro-Finance doesn’t work?
– Who can I partner with on the ground to manage these loans?
– What is a realistic rate of return?
– What kind of regulatory hurdles are there to making this work?
If anyone out there can help me answer these questions I would appreciate it….
With Great Power, comes Great Responsibility
Oh Spiderman – how did you get to be so wise? He listened to his elders, paid attention to experts and learned from his mistakes. That’s how!
For those of you who never read the comic books or saw the movies the basic story goes like this. Spiderman (Peter Parker) was raised by his Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben in New York City. One day he was bitten by a radio- active (or bio-engineered depending on the version) spider and gained super human strength, agility and the ability to spin webs out of his wrists.
After his uncle loses his job and the Parker’s are faced with the possibility of losing their house young Spiderman decides to join an underground fight club to make some extra money. His uncle notices a change in Peter’s attitude and delivers the now famous line. At the end of the night the club is robbed and Peter has a chance to stop the thief but doesn’t. As he is running away the thief stabs Uncle Ben. Because Peter Parker didn’t feel it was his responsibility to stop a robbery, even though he had the power to do so, his uncle died.
From that point forward Spiderman made it his mission to steward his power responsibly.
One of the most powerful institutions in North America, outside the government is the Christian Church. Some would say it is even more powerful than government.
But Jesus never taught his followers how to steward power. His only teaching on the subject was to give it away and just serve people. And not just to serve but to serve to the point of giving up your own agenda, a kind of spiritual death to self. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” Jesus (Matthew 10:39).
The Christian Church is in a position of power that it was never intended to have. Unfortunately recent history has shown that the biggest hurdle many good people face when trying to serve others is none other than the Church. Church politics, arguments over doctrine and structure determine who’s “out” more than who to serve. Jesus corner stone teaching, best known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapter 5, 6 and 7) is inclusive and humble. Not exclusive and superior.
I get a lot of flak from people on this blog aimed at my Christian bias. One of the things I have noticed about it though is that it almost always comes from people who have been wounded by a powerful church. The message of Jesus is not a message of institutional power. It is a message of service and humility. Much of the church today looks nothing like Jesus intended. My challenge to everyone, believer or not is to read the Sermon on the Mount and ask yourself this question; “Am I living this life?”
And because I know some of you might not have a bible, here it is, just click the forward and back arrows to go to the next chapter.
I welcome your feedback!
“What Makes a Person So Poisonous, Righteous that He’d think less of anyone who just disagreed?”
The Gulf War Song, Moxy Fruvous (1993).
An Earworm is often described as part of a song. So it’s fitting that my first entry after I renamed the blog is prompted by a song.
Moxy Fruvous was a “one hit wonder” from Kingston, Ontario that wrote and produced a full album of politically charged folk songs in the early 90s. The hit was a fun little ditty called “The King of Spain” in which the band tells a prince and pauper type story of international trade. But the album reaches its most poignant moment on the final track, in the “Gulf War Song” a 4 minute acapella lament of politics turned to self-righteousness. In addition to the line quoted above my other favourite says “I’m just a pacifist, he’s just a patriot, if I said you were crazy would you have to fight me?”
This song was written during the first Gulf War. Before 9/11, before anyone knew who Osama bin Laden was or how to spell Taliban and before anyone but a few pentagon staffers knew what WMD meant.
I haven’t written much in the past few weeks. I’ve been reading a lot of the recent history of the Bush administration and how the world reacted to September 11, 2001. Like everyone, I’ve lived that history and at times had a front row seat. 9/11 is one of those events, like the moon landing, pearl harbour or the assassination of John Kennedy that everyone who was alive at that moment will never forget.
As was often the case, I was the first one in the office that morning and I vividly recall sitting at my desk in a Toronto high-rise looking out at a clear blue sky and watching aircraft on final approach to Pearson International Airport. The thought crossed my mind that there appeared to be more planes in the area than on other mornings, little did I know that US airspace had just been closed and a number of flights were being diverted.
I had the window open and a maintenance crew who happened to be repelling down the side of the building making repairs to the balcony leaned in and asked if I had heard was what happening in New York City. They had a portable radio on their work platform. It was a surreal moment; 4 men literally hanging from a rope 19 stories above the ground talking to me through an open window about how airplanes were crashing into a similar building half a continent away. Would we be next?
As I have read the historical and political commentary of what followed two things have stood out.
# 1) In 1998 journalist Thomas Freidman said, “It’s not another superpower that threatens America at the end of the twentieth century. The greatest danger that the United States faces today is from Super-empowered individuals who hate America more than ever because of globalization and who can do something about it on their own, more than ever, thanks to globalization.” (The Lexus and the Olive Tree). 3 years before 9/11, Freidman prophesied that Globalization could become a double edged sword. Our struggle in the 20th century is to keep one edge sharp, that of expanded markets and empowerment and the other, increased poverty and widening economic gaps, dull.
# 2) Decision makers need to have complete information. In the case of George W. Bush my reading of the accounts from journalist like Bob Woodward (State of Denial) and Ron Suskind (The One Percent Doctrine) have revealed that the president was functioning with bad intelligence. The people with good intelligence were unable for various reasons, not the least of which was fear for their own jobs, to pass the information up the chain. In one instance a general on the ground in Iraq later wrote in his personal journal that he felt the government was making huge mistakes that would take years to correct and yet when given the opportunity to meet face to face with the president said that the mission was proceeding as planned.
I am not an apologist for George W. Bush, but how can you expect a man to make effective decisions when his closest advisors aren’t giving him correct information.
Over the next few posts I hope to expand on the first idea, the second I’ll leave to the historians.
Go ahead and download the Gulf War Song at:
>I found a new title for my Blog!
After months of looking for the perfect word or phrase that really says what I mean I’ve settled on this. These musings start out as Earworms. I’ll see something on the news, read it in the paper or a book or hear it spoken by someone in the know; it’ll get in my head and stick there like a worm.
The only way to kill the worm is to understand it, listen to it, and figure out where it came from so that you know what it wants from you. That’s what I do here.
Having an Earworm isn’t fun! The term conjures up images of creepy, crawly things in your head. These thoughts that I explore here, crawl into my brain and won’t leave until I give them the time and understanding they demand.
In short – they drive me crazy.
Welcome to life with my Earworms….
>I’ve been blogging for about a month now. I’ve invited several hundred people to view my blog and submit feedback and I appreciate each and every response that I have received. Of course as I expected I have received a few negative comments that I wish to address here.
1) I can’t spell.
I write everything in Microsoft word first before posting it, run a spelling and grammar check and proof read everything several times. Occationally I miss the odd word or phrase. Big deal. I’ve seen typos in the New York Times too. Get over it!
2) I quote the Bible too much.
Like over 60% of North Americans I am a Christian. My dad was a Baptist minister. I quote the Bible because I know it and because it is the most widely read ancient text in the world. Especially when you add to that the fact that Muslims and Jews both share more than half of the same scriptures with Christians. I use the scriptures as a starting point in an attempt to show that the ideas I’m presenting are not new and can be appreciated by people of all faiths.
If you don’t have any faith that’s okay too because then they’re just words to you. My challenge to anyone who takes offense to my use of the scriptures is to just read the words and leave it at that.
3) I’m too opinionated.
It’s a Blog people! That’s what it’s for, to express my opinion. I don’t force you to read it, if you don’t like it, delete it.
I had one reader say to me that he was a “truth seeker” and didn’t appreciate my forcing my opinion on him. ???
Truth Seekers beware! Sooner or later you will find find what you are looking for and then have to take a stand or become a hypocrite.
>The Battle for Recognition part 2
In my previous writing on the Battle for Recognition, posted August 11, I argued that all conflict stems from a single root, that we all want to be recognized as at least equal to but usually greater than those around us. I also stated that this creates some difficulty when the victor realizes he has either killed or otherwise diminished his foe to the point that no one is left to give him the recognition he fought so hard for. I called this The Paradox of The Victorious and it is that which I would like to explore further here.
I’ve spent the last couple of posts talking about Thymos, the Greek word for spiritedness, and concluded that while Isothymia or equality is a fine ideal our human nature drives us to Megalothymia or a feeling of superiority. I owe much of this thinking to sociologist Francis Fukuyama who in his book The End of History and the Last Man stated that “Man was from the start a social being; his own sense of self worth and identity is intimately connected with the value that other people place on him.”
But when one group has defeated and oppressed another any kind of value received from the vanquish foe is lessened because the vanquished are less human in the sight of the victor. In economic terms if one person has more wealth than another, their recognition of superiority gives no satisfaction because there is no equality to begin with.
So what is the victor to do?
History has shown us two ways in which winners continue to prop up their self worth long after they have already won. They either continue to look for more worthy opponents until they are ultimately defeated like Napoleon or they reach a point where they know they cannot continue to win and instead build walls around themselves and treat the outside world with contempt like Saddam Hussein. On a more local level the Napoleons of our world could be the Wall Street financers who continue climbing the ladder, leveraging themselves and their clients beyond all reason until they collapse into bankruptcy while the Saddam Husseins of our world could be the abusive men who terrorize their families behind closed doors.
On the international stage of humanitarian aid westerners must be aware of these tendencies. In the battle for recognition we’ve already won. We live in the most advanced society on earth, our economic wealth is unsurpassed. But when we move into the developing world to offer our help, be it specific expertise or simply an economic hand, we must be careful not to become like Napoleons or Saddam Husseins. We cannot ride in on a white horse proclaiming to save the world and we cannot build walls.
We must never forget that the very people we are trying to help are also fighting the battle for recognition and we cannot do anything that will make them feel diminished in any way. Otherwise their own megalotymic instincts will drive them to view us as invaders and ultimately prolong the suffering. One of the greatest criticisms of Humanitarian Aid is that the workers do not take enough time to study and understand the local environment.
For a resent example of how societies continue to build walls around themselves check out the following link from Human Rights Watch.
>The Third Way of the Thymos part 2
One of the most common criticisms of isothymia and the spread of liberal democracy is that it is homogenizing culture and stifling creativity. When the notion of all men being created equal proceeds to its natural conclusion not only are we all treated as equal but we will also all start to look the same, sound the same and act the same. When the lines between cultures get blurred there is no motivation to be unique and creativity ceases.
Liberal Democracy owes much of its existence to isothymotic passions but as Francis Fukuyama noted in, The End of History and the Last Man “If tomorrow’s isothymotic passions try to outlaw differences between the ugly and the beautiful, or pretend the person with no legs is not just the spiritual but the physical equal of someone whole in body, then the argument will in the fullness of time become self refuting, just as communism was.”
It is my assertion that Liberal Democracy has already gone too far. Our society is fraught with resentment toward those who work hard and achieve something great. We say to doctors who have spent a decade in school and borrowed heavily to finance their education that they or the entrepreneur who risked everything on an idea do not deserve to earn more than anyone else. It takes a healthy dose of megalothymia to be willing to stay in school for years after your classmates have gone to work or to forgo a comfortable life while you plough every dollar you earn back into an idea with no immediate payback.
On the other hand globalization has given corporations the ability to look at the whole world as one giant market and fostered a Winner-Take-All attitude that is further increasing the gaps between rich and poor.
The human tendency to make sure our own needs are covered before looking at our neighbour’s needs is far from isothymia. At best it is self preservation which stems from the idea that I am more important that you. The Third Way of the Thymos recognizes the human desire to be greater and encourages it because it also recognizes that a rising tide floats all boats. But what about the other great criticism of globalization and liberal democracy; as the economy expands what then happens to those people who have no boat?
A democratic system is by definition equal but individuals are by nature self promoters. To put it another way, we need a system that encourages individual megalothymia while maintaining a corporate isothymia. After all, it is the ambitious individual who contributes the most to rising economic standards and in turn makes possible, through employment and taxation, the creation of a social safety net. Benjamin Freidman made this clear in his book “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth” by examining how expanding economies encourage the liberalizing of politics and stagnant or recessionary economies result in the closure of social programs and ultimately the oppression of weaker individuals. In the United States, the civil rights movement of the 1960s would not have been possible had it not coincided with a long period of sustained economic growth.
So where does that leave us? How then do we balance our individual drive to be greater with our group desires for equality? Not just on a local or national scale but also how does this influence foreign policy? How do we respond to corporations that exploit foreign workers? How indeed do we define exploitation when what we in North America would consider slave labour is seen as a good wage in other locations? These are all questions that continue to haunt me and will no doubt result in further postings.
>The Third Way of the Thymos
In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit – Judges 21:25 (NIV)
The story of the people of Israel as told in the book of Judges is a story of a society not unlike our own. It was a society that was based on a rule of law; this was after all the people who brought us the 10 commandments, but lacking in a strong central government. This lack of government eventually caused the society to collapse in on itself and gave rise to an oppressive monarchy.
Today “rulers” have been replaced by prime ministers and presidents that are servants of the people, thus weakening central government authority.
At first glance this may sound like a good thing but all too often a week central government becomes servant to special interests or puppets of the rich and powerful. They are forced to walk a tight rope between interests of the free market economy and social ideals. They cannot enact laws that will offend either of these groups for fear of upsetting the general population or worse, upsetting the capital markets and sending their economies into a tailspin. The rule of law alone still leaves far too much open to interpretation by the legal profession and manipulation by special interest groups. So we end up like the early Israelites, without a king, and everyone doing as he sees fit.
The rise of liberal democracy has made it impossible to live in a class based society. All men are created equal after all. But the idea that all men are created equal also means that no one is better equipped to make the rules than anyone else and everyone can question authority.
When we recognize that all men are created equal we are recognizing that everyone is human and all have the same spirit. The ancient Greeks had a word for this; they called it the Thymos which is loosely translated as Spiritedness. Francis Fukuyama, in his book The End of History and The Last Man spent a great deal of time exploring thymos and how it has related to political structure. Thymos manifests itself in our society as either Megalothymos, the desire to be seen as greater than the rest or Isothymos, the desire for equality.
Fukuyama theorizes that all of history has been leading up to a moment when all societies will adopt liberal democracy and the world as a whole will reach a state of Isothymia. He calls this The End of History because the need for major world-shaping events like wars and treaties will no longer exist and history itself will cease to be interesting. The Last Man at the end of history is the one man left who has been living with a megalothymos and finally recognizes the equality of all.
However; I disagree with Fukuyama’s assessment of history and where it is leading us. Despite all our best efforts society is nowhere near a state of isothymia or complete equality and I do not believe that there will ever come a day when megalothymia will be vanquished. In fact I believe that our liberal democratic society is schizophrenic at best, more likely hypocritical or even deliberately deceiving us. On the one hand we claim to be striving for equality through social welfare programs, universal health care and free education while on the other hand we are encouraging and celebrating megalothymia, rewarding those in business or sports who achieve great things.
This is not really a bad thing. Where would the world be without Bill Gates or Michael Jordan?
True isothymia stifles creativity by limiting its rewards. Marxist communism was very isothymic; Lenin turned it into a megalothymic power play. Total megalothymia oppresses those without the will or ability to fight back. We need a third way. Over the next few posts I intend to expand upon what I am calling, for lack of a better phrase, The Third Way of the Thymos. This is a new way of looking at the world that still rewards megalothymia and recognizes the sameness and potential for equality in all people.